Kiss of Death
Chapter Fifteen

 Rachel Caine

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"Stop thinking?"
"You're doing way too much of it. It'll make you go blind." She laughed and turned her face toward his. "I think you're thinking of something else."
"I'm definitely thinking of something else," he said, and bent over to kiss her. It was a long, sweet, slow kiss, full of gentle strokes of his tongue over her lips, which parted for him even though she was sure she hadn't exactly told them to do that. Warmth swept over her, making her oddly shivery, and she grabbed the neck of his shirt when he tried to pull away and kissed him some more. When she let go, neither of them moved far. Shane sat down in the chair next to her, but scooted it over and leaned in so they were as close together as possible. There weren't many lights here in the corner, where Claire had retreated to eat her cup of stew and think, and it felt wildly romantic sitting together by candlelight. Shane's skin looked golden in the glow, his eyes dark, with only a hint of shimmering amber when the light hit them just right. His chin was a little dark and rough, and she felt it with her palm, then smiled. "You need a shave," she said. "I thought you liked me scruffy."
"Scruffy is for good dogs and bad rockers."
"Oh yeah? And which am I, again?" He was so close to her, and in this little bubble of candlelight it felt as if everything happening around them, all the craziness, all the bad things, was taking place a world away. There was something about Shane that just made it all okay, for as long as she was with him, for as long as he was looking at her with that wonderful, fascinated glow in his eyes. He moved a little strand of hair back from her face. "Some road trip, eh?"
"I've had worse," Claire said. His expression was priceless. "No, really. I have. I went on a trip with my parents all the way to Canada once. A week in the car, with my folks, having educational experiences. I thought I'd go nuts."
"I thought you liked educational experiences."
"Bet you could teach me a few things." He kissed her again, hungrily, and there was such focus in him that it took her breath away. She wanted--yeah, she knew what she wanted. She knew what he wanted, too. And she knew it wasn't going to happen, not here, not tonight--too bad, because if she got killed before getting some privacy with Shane again, she was going to be really upset with Oliver. Somebody coughed out in the shadows, at the edges of their candle, and Shane sat back. Claire licked her damp lips, tasting him all over again, and struggled to try to focus on something else, such as whoever was interrupting them. "What?" That came out a little harsh. "Sorry." That was Jason, and he didn't sound sorry at all. He sounded kind of amused. "If you want to go on with the porn show, please. I'll wait."
"Shut up," Shane growled. "You know, we could get into this make-me-no-you-make-me kind of thing, but I think we have better things to do," Jason said. "I'm not talking to you, anyway. I need Claire." She needed a lot of things, all from Shane, and she couldn't think of a blessed thing right now that she needed from Jason Rosser. It made her voice go even colder. "Why?" He rolled his eyes, just like his sister, which was creepy. She didn't even like to think they came from the same gene pool, much less shared things she thought were cute and funny in Eve. "Because Oliver wants you, and what Oliver wants, Oliver gets, right? So get your sweet little butt up already."
"Hey," Shane said, and stood up. "I'm not telling you again, Jase. Stop."
"What, because I said she had a sweet little butt? You don't think she does? Hard to believe, since you spend so much time staring at it." Shane's hands closed into fists, and Claire remembered Jason on the street in the dark outside Common Grounds, coming after them--after her and Eve, specifically, at least that was what he'd said to Shane. Shane didn't forget. "You and me, man, one of these days, we're going to finish this," he said softly. "Until that day, you stay the hell away from my girl. You understand?"
"Big tough guy," Jason said, and laughed. "Yeah, I understand. Personally, she's too skinny for me, anyway." He walked off, and Claire saw a tremor go through Shane, something she figured was an impulse to slam into Jason and knock him flat, and then pound him. But Shane didn't move. He let out a slow breath and turned back to face her. "That guy," he said, "is not normal; I don't care what Eve says. And I don't like him around you."
"I can take care of myself."
"Yeah, I know." He forced a smile. "It's just that--" This time, he shrugged and let it go. "Oliver, huh?"
"I guess." Claire picked up the candle and headed through the stacks for the unofficial--or official?--command desk, where Oliver was now sitting, talking to a couple of vampires whose faces glowed blue-white in the light of the fluorescent lamp. "About time," Oliver said. "I need you to see if you can get a message out on this thing." He nodded to the computer, which sat there dead and unresponsive. "There's no electricity."
"They've been trying to use this," he said, and pointed toward the pedal generator. "They tell me it should work, but there's some problem with the computer. Fix it."
"Just like that."
"Yes," Oliver said. "Just like that. Whine about it quietly, to yourself." She seethed, but Shane just shrugged and looked at the pedal generator, which was sort of like an exercise bike. "This thing could be a real workout," he said. "Tell you what: I'll pedal; you do the magic. Sound fair?" She liked that he was willing to help. Their fingers intertwined, and he kissed her again, lightly. "Sounds fair," she agreed. She turned the laptop over and took a look at it. Nothing obviously wrong jumped out-- nothing cracked or broken, anyway. Shane climbed on the seat and started turning the pedals --which must have been harder than it seemed, because even he seemed to be working at it. The resistance built up energy, which translated into electricity, which went into a power strip with some kind of backup battery built into it. Immediately, the battery began beeping and flickering a red light. "Right, that's working," Claire said. "It'll probably take a while to recharge the backup, though."
"How much time are we talking?" Shane asked. She grinned. "Slacker."
"Well, yeah, obviously." In a few moments, the computer's power light finally came on, and she booted up and started looking into the computer problem. It took her thirty minutes of diagnostics before she located the problem and got the operating system booted up. Shane, poor thing, kept pedaling. He stopped wasting his breath with quips after a while. When the power strip's battery finally clicked over to green, he stopped, gasping for breath, slumped over the handlebars. "Okay," he panted, "let's not screw it up, shall we? Because I do not want to do that again. Next time, get a vamp. They don't need to breathe." Claire looked over at Oliver, who was ignoring them and jotting down notes on a map of Blacke. But he was smiling a little. "It's booting up," she said, watching the lines scroll by. "Here goes...." The Windows tones sounded, and it felt like everybody in the library jumped. Mrs. Grant and Morley abandoned their security sweep and came back to stand by Claire's elbow as the operating system load finished, and the desktop finally appeared. She let it finish, then double-clicked the Internet icon. "Four oh four." She sighed. "What?" Morley peered over her shoulder. "What does that mean?"
"Page not found," she said. "It's a four oh four error. Let me try something else." She tried for Google. Then Wikipedia. Then Twitter. Nothing. "The ISP must be down. There's no Internet service."
"What about e-mail? It is e-mail, yes?" Morley asked, leaning even closer. "E-mail is a kind of electronic letter. It travels through the air." He seemed very smug that he knew that. "Well, not exactly, and would you please either back off or go find a shower? Thanks. And to send e-mail you have to have Internet service. So that doesn't work."
"I pedaled for nothing," Shane said mournfully. "That deeply bites."
"Does anyone else think it's too quiet?" Oliver asked, and looked up from the map. There was a moment of silence, and then Mrs. Grant said, "Sometimes they don't come at us for a few hours. But they always come. Every night. We're all there is for them." Oliver nodded, stood up, and gestured to Morley. The two vampires stalked off into the dark, talking in tones too quiet for human ears to catch at all. Mrs. Grant stared after them, eyes narrowed. "They'll turn on us," she said. "Sooner or later, your vampires will turn on us. Count on it."
"We're still alive," Claire said, and pointed to herself, Shane, Jason, and Eve. Eve was sitting a few feet away, curled in Michael's arms. "And we've been at this a whole lot longer than you."
"Then you're deluded," Mrs. Grant said. "How can you possibly trust these--people?" She acted as if that wasn't the word she wanted to use. "Because they gave you back your guns," Claire said. "And because they could have killed you in the first couple of minutes if they'd really wanted to. I know it's hard. It's hard for all of us, sometimes. But right now, you need to believe what they're telling you." Mrs. Grant frowned at her. "And when exactly do I stop believing them?" Claire smiled. "We'll let you know."
There weren't a lot of kids in the library, but there were a few--seven total, according to Claire's count, ranging from babies who were still being bottle-fed to a couple of trying-to-be- adult kids of maybe twelve. Nobody was too close to Claire's own age, though. She was kind of glad; it would have been just too creepy to see the kind of blank fear in their faces that she saw in the younger kids. Too much like seeing herself, in the beginning of her Morganville experience. She wound up thinking about the kids because Eve had brought over a lantern, gotten them in a circle, and started reading to them. It was something familiar, from the few words Claire could hear; it finally clicked in. Eve was reading Where the Wild Things Are. All the kids, even the ones who would probably have said they were too old for it, were sitting quietly, listening, with the fear easing away from their expressions. "She's got the touch, doesn't she?" That was Michael, standing behind Claire. He was watching Eve read, too. "With kids." There was something quietly sad in his voice. "Yeah, I guess." Claire glanced over at him, then away. "Everything okay?"
"Why wouldn't it be? Just another day for us Morganville brats." Now the smile was quietly sad, too. "I wish I could take her away from all this. Make it all--different."
"But you can't."
"No. I can't. Because I am who I am, and she is who she is. And that's it." He lifted his shoulders in a shrug so small it almost didn't even qualify. "She keeps asking me where we're going."
"Yeah," another voice said. It was Shane, pulling up a chair beside Claire. "Girls do that. They've always got to be taking the relationship somewhere."
"That's not true!"
"It is," he said. "I get it; somebody's got to be looking ahead. But it makes guys think they're --"
"Closed in," Michael said. "Trapped," Shane added. "Idiots," Claire finished. "Okay, I didn't really mean that. But jeez, guys. It's just a question."
"Yeah?" Michael's blue eyes were steady on Eve, watching her read, watching her smile, watching how she was with the kids clustered around her. "Is it?" Claire didn't answer. Suddenly, she was the one who felt closed in. Trapped. And she understood why Michael was feeling so ... strange. He was watching Eve with kids, and he was never going to have kids with Eve. At least, she didn't think vampires could.... She'd never really asked. But she was pretty sure she was right about that one. He looked like someone seeing the future, and not liking his place in it one bit. "Hey," Shane said, and nudged Claire's shoulder. "You noticed what's going on?" She blinked as she realized that Shane wasn't figuring out Michael--that he hadn't even really noticed all the personal stuff at all. He was, instead, looking out into the shadows, where there had been vampires patrolling at the edges. "What?" she asked. She couldn't see anyone. "They're gone."
"The vampires. As in, no longer in the building. Unless there's a big line for the bathroom, all of a sudden. Even Jason's gone."
"No way." Claire slid off her chair and went to the desk. There was no sign of Oliver, or Morley. The map of Blacke was still spread out on the table, anchored with weights on the corners, marked in colored pencils with things she didn't understand. She grabbed the lantern and went to the library doors, where Jacob Goldman had been standing. He wasn't there. "See?" Shane said. "They've bailed. All of them."
"That's impossible. Why would they just leave us?"
"You have to ask?" Shane shook his head. "Claire, sometimes I think your head's not really in the survival game. Think: why would they leave us? Because they can. Because as much as you want to believe the best about everybody, they're not the good guys."
"No," she blurted. "No, they wouldn't. Oliver wouldn't."
"The hell he wouldn't. Oliver is a rock-solid bastard, and you know it. If he added up the numbers and it looked like it might benefit him by adding even a second or two to his life, he'd be out of here, making up some sad story. It's how he survives, Claire." Shane hesitated for a second, then plunged on. "And maybe this is a good thing. Maybe if he's taken off, we should, too. Just--run. Get as far away, as fast as we can."
"What are you saying?"